Salt & Light: Made to be Given Away


 3rd Sunday Before Lent   

Isaiah 58:1-12

Psalm 112:1-10  

1 Corinthians 2:1-16   

Matthew 5:13-20

Christmas is finally over and so is Epiphany and we have this little gap in the calendar as we begin to turn toward Lent. In these weeks, we look at some of the teachings of Jesus as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. So far, according to Matthew, Jesus has been born, baptised and tempted in the wilderness, Jesus begins to preach, calls the first disciples, begins to heal the sick in public. People are starting to follow him as large crowds are gathering at the end of chapter 4. The news of Him is spreading!

Chapter 5 is the beginning The Sermon on the Mount. We are told that Jesus is sitting on the mountainside with the disciples and the crowds.

Create a mental picture of this scene.

Is it a hot day? What does the ground feel like? What does Jesus look like to you? His voice sound like? What is the mood of the crowd?  Jesus has just given The Beatitudes to the crowd – blessed are the poor in spirit, the mournful, the weak, the merciful…

These words have a corporate feel to them like they are addressed to groups of people. The address changes in verse 11 and Jesus’ message becomes much more personal: ‘Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you’. This carries on to verse 13, ‘You are the salt, You are the light’. It feels as though Jesus is speaking directly to individuals in that crowd. And he is speaking to us now.

Notice it Jesus says, ‘you are the salt and you are the light.’ Not you will be the salt and the light. You are the salt and light. No guess work here! We are the salt and light to the people around us. Even if we don’t feel like it!

What does it mean to be salt? Salt is essential to life. Our bodies need a certain amount of it to function properly. Salt is also one of our basic human tastes. Salt also creates thirst; you know this if you eat salty snacks!

Salt needs to be balanced though. Too little and things can be tasteless. Too little in our bodies can lead to muscle cramps, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, shock, coma and death. It’s a big deal!

Too much salt and foods are made inedible. In the body, salt makes it hold on to water which in turn raises blood pressure. High blood pressure can result in heart attacks, strokes, dementia and kidney disease.    

Salt needs balance!  

Salt is one of the oldest seasonings and is an important method of food preservation – it prevents decay and corruption. This is what Jesus is calling the disciples and the crowd to be. One writer put it like this ‘Disciples, if they are true to their calling, make the earth a purer and more palatable place. But they can do so only as long as they preserve their distinctive character: un-salty salt has no more value.’

In this passage Jesus is calling the Jewish people of his day to be the people they were called by God to be. People who were poor in spirit, in mourning, meek, desiring righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and the persecuted. This can, of course, be applied to us Christians too.

When we refer to someone as being ‘a salt of the earth’ guy or woman, we mean those people who are kind, down to the earth. These people get things done, do the right thing in any and all situations.

Jesus’ used the analogy of salt to challenge to those listening to his teachings. God had called his chosen Jewish people to be the salt of the earth; but they were behaving like everyone else, with power politics, factional squabbles and militant revolutions. The Jewish people were his chosen salt, but they were losing their distinctive taste. Jesus is saying the same to us – how are we to prevent decay in the world around us if we lose our saltiness? If we become un-salty then we can have no influence on the world.

I think we lose our saltiness when we buy into what the world tells us we need to buy, look like or be like. We lose our saltiness when we become petty, easily insulted or slighted by others, withhold forgiveness and judge others by standards we ourselves could never meet. You have a new Vicar starting soon! Is St John’s going to be the right kind of salty?  

Light, like salt, affects its environment in a distinctive way. A disciple who is visibly different from other people will influence them. You are the light of the world! We have to be careful with the language of ‘good works’ here. It is not to show off or attract attention to one’s self – but rather to point to God who inspired the works. By showing the works, the disciple will give light to all.

Can you think of anyone that you know who is visibly different because of their faith?

To be a light to people – we don’t have to do big things! There is no excuse to not be a light to those around us. Paying attention to people, chatting with the cashier in the grocery store, saying hello, smiling. Easy stuff!

There are some people that can light up a room when they walk into it. Do you know anyone like that? What is it about them that can do that? In reference to the Beatitudes – those who are merciful, pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who take abuse for standing up for what is right. They are the lights.

Jesus is the ultimate light of the world – and if we believe in him – them we need to reflect that light. Being salt and light is challenging – I know it is. There is a warning about becoming un-salty salt. There is also a warning about hiding our light literally ‘under the bed’. We are of no more use to the world if we hide our light than one who has lost their distinctiveness.

In Isaiah, God is asking people share bread with the hungry, care for the homeless, clothe the naked and not to hide from their families. Then their light would break forth like the dawn, healing would spring up quickly. God’s people have been asked to care for others, at their own expense, for centuries. It is not any different today.

If we are to take the words and teaching of Jesus seriously, we need to do the same. We are blessed when we give. It doesn’t always feel nice or good. That is not what God is asking for in our giving. It is going to be a sacrifice.

At the end of Isaiah, he tells the people, ‘if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your needs in parched places.

This is what giving does, what being salt and light gets us – God’s guiding, satisfaction of your needs in parched places, bones made strong, you will become a watered garden.

It is by being salt and light that Jesus will fulfil the law of God on earth. The scribes and Pharisees did teach a way of faithful to God and had a way of behaving in accordance to God’s covenant with Israel. Through Jesus, God’s kingdom is breaking in. This kingdom goes way beyond anything the scribes and Pharisees ever dreamed of. They thought it was about behaving through the law.

It is not about primarily about changing behaviour but about changing the heart and the mind itself. Jesus brought this into reality in his own person. He is the salt of the earth. He is the light of the world – becoming a beacon of hope and new life for everybody, drawing people to worship God the father, embodying the way of self-giving love which is the deepest fulfilment of the law and the prophets.

That’s why these sayings now apply to all of us who follow Jesus and draw on his life as the source of our own.

How and where can we be salt and light in the world today?